Mirko Grabovac back to revive Warriors FC as coach in S.League
After a disappointing 2017 season, nine-time champions Warriors FC have swooped to bring in former striker Mirko Grabovac to replace Razif Onn as head coach on an initial, one-year deal.
Last season, Warriors FC finished a lowly fifth out of nine S.League teams, which was an unacceptable return for the last Singapore winners of the domestic championship.
For 2018, they will turn over a new leaf after the depature of veteran players like national captain Shahril Ishak and experienced defender Baihakki Khaizan.
"We felt we needed a European-style training programme, and Mirko is now an experienced coach, so it's a good fit," Warriors general manager Paul Poh told The Straits Times.
The 46-year-old Croatian, who hung up his boots in 2008, was previously in charge of teams in his birth nation, such as NK Imotski, NK Mosor and NK Junak Sinj.
Grabovac was hugely successful during his time in Singapore football from 1999 to 2008, with 218 S.League goals, five Golden Boots and four S.League titles.
Despite arriving in the Lion City at the age of 28, he proved that he was no waning force. He scored 135 league goals between 1999 to 2003. He claimed the top scorer award in the first four seasons as Warriors FC picked up the 2000 and 2002 league titles.
He was given Singapore citizenship in 2002 and represented the Lions 12 times, although he did not manage to score an international goal.
Grabovac then switched to Tampines Rovers, winning the 2004 and 2005 league titles and accumulating 83 league goals from 2004 to 2007.
In 2008, he joined Sengkang Punggol (now Hougang United) as player-coach, but the then 37-year-old struggled with the required annual fitness test. He would ultimately take the decision to renounce his Singapore citizenship to return to Croatia to reunite with his family.
Ten years on after his departure from Singapore, Grabovac has now returned and is looking to bring success back to the Warriors, who last won the championship in 2014.
"I don't want to talk about my achievements as a player because I'm now a coach," he told The Straits Times.
"Warriors are a big club, so we must work together to achieve something, maybe a trophy. I am very motivated to do well with my former club."
He will be putting a huge emphasis on the team's technical ability and fitness levels in the upcoming 2018 S.League season, which kicks off in late March.
"I like attacking football but [to play] attacking football, the team must have good technique and good fitness," Grabovac said.
"Fitness is most important because if you are fit, you are not going to be easily injured and you make less mistakes on the pitch.
"I think our young players are fit, but I don't want them to just run all over the place. I like intelligent players who know what to do in every moment.
"I know of the changes the S.League has made, and it is not new to me. I worked with many young players in Croatia and I think it's good to give them a push."
Gravobac will be joined by fitness coach Marko Skomrlj at the Warriors, while the long-serving Razif will remain at the club as head of youth development.
The Warriors are starting to assemble a handy squad for 2018, having captured the likes of Khairul Nizam, Gabriel Quak and Shamil Sharif and retaining consistent Japanese centre-back Kento Fukuda as one of their two foreign imports.
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT